'First people and nations' - NSW Gov't preamble ammendment bill

The original Australians were not even counted in the polulation or had the right to vote in any elections until 1965. This symbolic gesture is just a very small recognition of the truth and has taken 110 years. The genocide and denial has been going on for 222 years.

Adam Bennett and Isabel Hayes (AAP) Sydney Morning Herald September 8, 2010

The NSW constitution will be amended to formally recognise indigenous people as the state's "first people and nations", acknowledging their role as traditional custodians on the land.

Premier Kristina Keneally on Wednesday introduced a bill to make the change to the preamble in Constitution Act 1902, which she said was long overdue.

The bill has the support of the opposition and its expected passage will bring the state into line with similar changes to the constitutions of Victoria and Queensland.

It would also come ahead of possible changes to the Commonwealth constitution, after the Labor federal government earlier this year set up a bipartisan panel to consider the issue.

Ms Keneally said it was a "proud day" in NSW history.

"Our intention is to provide recognition that is long overdue," she told parliament.

"We are enshrining today fundamental truths.

"The truth that our Aboriginal people are the first inhabitants of NSW. The truth of the spiritual and cultural and economic ties that bind our Aboriginal people to their traditional lands and values.

"The truth in the diverse and the unique contributions that many Aboriginal nations and cultures and communities make to the life and the character of our state."

Ms Keneally admitted the bill was symbolic, but said symbols had the "power to shape our attitudes, and our actions".

"There are times when symbols matter very deeply," she said, citing the state's 1997 apology to the stolen generation, and the 2008 apology by then prime minister Kevin Rudd.

"Yes, these were symbolic gestures, they were deeply symbolic gestures, because they were powerful and necessary expressions of the community's will."

The emotional day, which reduced Ms Keneally to tears at a reception, began with a traditional smoking ceremony in the parliament's forecourt.

Didgeridoo player Russell Dawson and a koori dance ensemble from Darlington Public School, in inner-west Sydney, led an official procession into the lower house to watch Ms Keneally introduce the bill just after 11.30am (AEST).

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell gave the bill bipartisan support, but stressed the amendment should be a first step in improving the lot of indigenous people.

"There can be no equality of citizenship without equality of opportunity. There can be no equality of opportunity until those of the Aboriginal community have the same life choices and life expectancies as the rest of the community," Mr O'Farrell said.

"This is the first step but it is not the conclusion."

The state's first indigenous MP, Community Services Minister Linda Burney, said it was "overwhelming" to welcome such a bill.

It was "a very, very significant day, a very good day for NSW parliament," she told the lower house.

"This parliament isn't just a place for the dry making of laws," she said.

"It is a place for telling true stories of people and places. It is a place for feeling, it is a place for people to demand their rights, it is a place for achieving social justice.

"I am so proud."